What is a hookworm infection?
Hookworms are parasites. This means they live off other
living things. Hookworms affect your lungs and small intestine. Humans contract
hookworms through roundworm eggs and larvae found in dirt contaminated by
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
hookworm infections occur in an estimated 576 to 740 million people worldwide.
It mainly affects people in developing nations in the tropics and subtropics
due to poor sanitation. These infections rarely occur in the United States.
are the symptoms of a hookworm infection?
You might not have any symptoms from the infection if you’re otherwise
healthy and eat foods with plenty of iron.
If you do experience symptoms, they generally start with itchiness and a
small rash caused by an allergic reaction in the area that the larvae entered
your skin. This is generally followed by diarrhea as the hookworms grow in your
intestine. Other symptoms include:
- abdominal pain
- colic, or cramping and excessive crying in infants
- intestinal cramps
- a fever
- blood in your stool
- a loss of appetite
- itchy rash
Parasitic roundworms, or hookworms, cause these infections. The two types of
hookworms that cause infection are Necator
americanus and Ancylostoma duodenale.
The eggs of these hookworms end up on the ground after passing through human
feces. They hatch into larvae, which stay in the soil until they have a chance
to break through human skin.
are hookworm infections spread?
You can become infected with hookworms by coming into contact with soil that
contains their eggs or larvae. The larvae enter your skin, travel through your bloodstream,
and enter your lungs. They also travel to your windpipe and are carried to your
small intestine when you swallow. Fully grown, they can live in your small
intestine for a year or more before passing through your feces.
People who live in warm climates in areas with poor hygiene and sanitation
are more at risk of developing hookworm infections.
Can my pet make me sick?
Hookworm infections can occur in pets, especially puppies and kittens. If
your pet has an infection, you can get it indirectly. You won’t get it from
petting your dog or cat. The eggs are passed in your pet’s stool and hatch into
larvae. The eggs and larvae are found in the dirt where your pet leaves stool.
You can get a hookworm infection by touching contaminated dirt with your bare
hands or feet. You can also get it by accidentally eating contaminated soil.
To reduce your risk, make sure your pets are vaccinated and dewormed by your
veterinarian. Also, avoid walking barefoot in areas where pets leave feces.
This is especially important when you might come in contact with animal feces
from pets whose health conditions are unknown, such as at a park.
How serious is a hookworm infection?
If you have a hookworm infection that lasts a long time, you could become
anemic. Anemia is characterized by a low red blood cell count, which can lead
to heart failure in severe cases. Anemia results from hookworms feeding on your
blood. You’re more at risk of having severe anemia if you also don’t eat well, are
pregnant, or have malaria.
Other complications that can develop from these infections include
nutritional deficiencies and a condition known as ascites. This condition is
caused by serious protein loss and results in fluid buildup in your abdomen.
Children who have frequent hookworm infections can experience slow growth
and mental development from losing iron and protein.
are hookworm infections treated?
Treatment for hookworm infections aims to get rid of the parasites, improve
nutrition, and treat complications from anemia. Your doctor will prescribe
medications that destroy parasites, such as albendazole (Albenza)
(Emverm). These medications are generally taken for one to three days to treat
Your doctor might also have you take an iron supplement if you have anemia.
Your doctor will also help you recover from any nutritional deficiencies you
have. If you have ascites, they’ll ask you to add additional protein to your
can hookworm infections be prevented?
You can lower your risk of becoming infected with hookworms by:
- wearing shoes when you walk outdoors, especially
in areas that might have feces in the soil
- drinking safe water
- properly cleaning and cooking food
- practicing proper handwashing
In areas where hookworm infections are common, improving sanitation can
reduce the number of infections. This includes using better sewage disposal
systems and reducing human defecation that occurs outdoors.
Some developing nations practice preventive treatment. This involves
treating groups of people who are at a higher risk of having infections. These
- young children
- women of childbearing age
- pregnant women
- women who are lactating
- adults who work in occupations that put them at risk
for heavy infections